Goleta is entering the political season. Candidates running for mayor are addressing issues of interest to their voters. Growth, housing, water costs, crime, youth care, and the needs of butterflies are issues spoken to by Paula Perotte and Michael Bennett. But universally avoided by them (and others in elections outside of the City of Santa Barbara and only sketchily address in that venue) is the question of what can be done in Goleta, what should be done in Goleta, about “the homeless.”
Historically, while the people of Goleta (and Carpinteria and the unincorporated areas of the county) frequently complain about problems they attribute to the presence of “the homeless” in their community, the only demand they make on their elected officials is that “the homeless” be moved from their community. What is desired is an “out of sight out of mind” policy. This suits politicians well in fact. Not having to address the issue of who is homeless, what is the alternative to homelessness, how did the people become homeless, where do the homeless live, and where do the homeless come from, means that these places can pretend that none of “the homeless” have a claim on their resources and none of their activities have created homelessness.
As a result local focus on the issue of the unhoused and the poorly housed has been seen as one only for the City of Santa Barbara.
Goleta offers no serious social services to address the issue. Neither does Carpinteria. In fact it is an unspoken fear of these towns that offering any help with “attract” needy folks to their town. The sophistry of this theory is that their town does not create any homeless or destitute itself.
In fact “the homeless” are from every community. Carpinteria, Summerland, Montecito, Noleta, Goleta, Isla Vista, and the unincorporated and untitled places in the South County are all creators and all have “the homeless” among them.
It is therefore the legal, if not the moral, duty of these communities to participate in the programs needed to alleviate the problem. Shelter, food, counseling, health care, and the needs of the mentally disturbed, the addicted, and the confused are not just the problem of Santa Barbara city.
But Goleta and Carpinteria, for example, continue to enforce laws against the use of recreational vehicles for housing on their streets as well as the prohibition against sleeping in the bushes or alleys of their community. They have driven “the homeless” out of their towns and into Santa Barbara purposefully and cynically.
Such policies are legally suspect. A federal judge in Orange County recently chastised city officials in Fullerton, Anaheim, and Santa Ana for attempting to avoid sharing in the need to house a share of the greater Orange County homeless population. And he threatens to prohibit cities from enforcing their anti-camping laws until they participate in a solution bringing “some resolution for these men and women.”
So candidates for office in Goleta (and Carpinteria) should take note: it is the responsibility of your town to address this social need; you cannot just push it down the road. For decades you have selfishly burdened your sister city, Santa Barbara, with almost sole responsibility for this obligation.
Now is your time, election season, to speak to this issue.
Minimally this should include placing services for the needy in your own town, particularly for housing the unsheltered and offering safe-parking programs to people driven to RV living.
Glen Mowrer is a retired attorney who served as Santa Barbara County Public Defender for 24 years and created the Legal Project which represented homeless people and for which he received the Pro Bono Service Award from the California State Bar Association.